How Many Different Types of Hearing Loss are There?

Shot of a senior man drinking coffee and looking thoughtfully out of a window wondering about hearing loss.

Have you ever bought one of those “one size fits all” t-shirts only to be disappointed (and surprised) when the shirt does not, in fact, fit as advertised? That’s really frustrating. There aren’t really very many “one size fits all” with anything in the real world. That’s not only true with clothing, it’s also true with medical conditions like hearing loss. This can be true for numerous reasons.

So what causes hearing loss? And what’s the most prevalent type of hearing loss? Well, that’s exactly what we intend to find out.

There are different types of hearing loss

Because hearing is such a complex cognitive and physical operation, no two people’s hearing loss will be precisely the same. Maybe you hear just fine at the office, but not in a crowded restaurant. Or, maybe specific frequencies of sound get lost. There are numerous forms that your hearing loss can take.

How your hearing loss shows up, in part, could be dictated by what’s causing your symptoms in the first place. Because your ear is a fairly complex little organ, there are any number of things that can go wrong.

How your hearing works

Before you can completely understand how hearing loss works, or what level of hearing loss calls for a hearing aid, it’s practical to consider how things are supposed to work, how your ear is usually supposed to work. Check out this breakdown:

  • Outer ear: This is the visible part of the ear. It’s the initial sound receiver. The shape of your ear helps funnel those sounds into your middle ear (where they are further processed).
  • Middle ear: The middle ear comprises your eardrum and several tiny ear bones (yes, you have bones in your ear, but they are admittedly very, very tiny).
  • Inner ear: Your stereocilia are found hear. Vibration is detected by these little hairs which are then converted into electrical signals. Your cochlea helps here, also. Our brain then receives these electrical signals.
  • Auditory nerve: This nerve sends these electrical signals to the brain.
  • Auditory system: All of the elements listed above, from your brain to your outer ear, are elements of your “auditory system”. The total hearing process depends on all of these parts working in unison with each other. Typically, in other words, the entire system will be impacted if any one part has issues.

Hearing loss varieties

Because there are numerous parts of your auditory system, there are (as a result) multiple forms of hearing loss. The root cause of your hearing loss will determine which kind of hearing loss you experience.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This form of hearing loss happens because there’s a blockage somewhere in the auditory system, frequently in the middle or outer ear. Typically, this blockage is caused by fluid or inflammation (when you have an ear infection, for instance, this usually occurs). A growth in the ear can occasionally cause conductive hearing loss. Once the blockage is eliminated, hearing will usually return to normal.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: When your ears are damaged by loud sound, the fragile hair cells which detect sound, called stereocilia, are destroyed. This form of hearing loss is typically chronic, progressive, and irreversible. Usually, people are encouraged to wear hearing protection to avoid this type of hearing loss. Even though sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it can be successfully managed with hearing aids.
  • Mixed hearing loss: It sometimes happens that someone will experience both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss simultaneously. This can sometimes be difficult to treat because the hearing loss is coming from different places.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder: It’s fairly rare for somebody to develop ANSD. When sound isn’t effectively transmitted from your ear to your brain, this type of hearing loss occurs. A device called a cochlear implant is normally used to treat this type of hearing loss.

The desired results are the same even though the treatment solution will vary for each type of hearing loss: improving your hearing ability.

Hearing loss types have variations

And that isn’t all! Any of these normal types of hearing loss can be categorized further (and with more specificity). For instance, hearing loss can also be classified as:

  • Pre-lingual or post-lingual: If your hearing loss developed before you learned to talk, it’s known as pre-lingual. Hearing loss is post-lingual when it develops after you learned to speak. This will impact the way hearing loss is managed.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical: If your hearing loss is the same in both ears it’s symmetrical and if it’s not the same in both ears it’s asymmetrical.
  • Progressive or sudden: Hearing loss that slowly gets worse over time is called “progressive”. If your hearing loss occurs all at once, it’s called “sudden”.
  • Acquired hearing loss: If you develop hearing loss because of external causes, such as damage, it’s called “acquired”.
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: It’s possible to experience hearing loss in one ear (unilateral), or in both (bilateral).
  • High frequency vs. low frequency: Your hearing loss can be classified as one or the other depending on what frequency range is getting lost.
  • Congenital hearing loss: If you’re born with hearing loss it’s called “congenital”.
  • Fluctuating or stable: Fluctuating hearing loss refers to hearing loss that comes and goes. Stable hearing loss remains at about the same level.

That might seem like a lot, and it is. The point is that each categorization helps us more precisely and effectively manage your symptoms.

A hearing exam is in order

So how can you tell what type, and what sub-type, of hearing loss you have? Unfortunately, hearing loss isn’t really something you can self-diagnose with much accuracy. As an example, is your cochlea functioning properly, how would you know?

But that’s what hearing tests are for! Your loss of hearing is sort of like a “check engine” light. We can help you figure out what type of hearing loss you have by hooking you up to a wide variety of modern technology.

So the best way to figure out what’s happening is to make an appointment with us today!


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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive a personalized free hearing test and hearing loss consultation, call today to set up an appointment.

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